China's population

China's revised one-child policy still enables discrimination against girls

Mengdi Lin says Beijing should scrap the one-child policy, not just ease restrictions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 December, 2013, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 4:11pm

When I was five, my father left my family for America because he wanted a second child, a son. When I was seven, my best friend's family was bankrupted by the "social compensation fee" imposed by the Chinese government for having an extra child.

When I was eight, my aunt was told by officials to undergo sterilisation because she had exceeded the one-child quota.

Though I left China for the United States soon after that, these memories are still engraved in my mind. People were, and still are, constantly coerced by the one-child policy.

Recently, the government has relaxed the restrictions in an attempt to remedy the moral problems caused by the original policy.

These problems include forcing parents to either abort a second children or pay the heavy fine.

With the change to the policy, couples are now allowed to have two children if either spouse is an only child.

But with just a minor relaxation on the number of children allowed, will the revised policy prove effective in correcting the problems that came with the original policy?

The answer is no; such limited reforms are useless in eliminating the problems.

Before the reform, those women who could not afford the penalty for having a second child would often resort to an abortion.

In fact, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, more than 13 million abortions are performed every year in China. That is a staggeringly high figure when compared to the 630,000 annual abortions officially reported in India - a country with almost the same population as China but without a mandatory quota on children per family.

Moreover, many of these 13 million abortions are gender-selective; female fetuses have a higher chance of being aborted than the male ones.

This gender-selective abortion is a consequence of the prevalent, deep-rooted preference for a son in Chinese society combined with the one-child policy.

Many women who are pregnant with a female fetus have an abortion to give themselves another chance of producing a son - a male heir for their family - because they cannot afford to pay the social compensation fee if they have a second child.

There is no denying that many Chinese people still carry the remnants of a patriarchal mindset and believe that a son is more valuable than a daughter.

But, even with that deep-rooted cultural preference, Chinese parents still have a duty towards their daughters.

That duty is violated when the fines imposed as part of the one-child policy cause parents to feel they have no choice but to discriminate against a female child and abort female fetuses.

The revised one-child policy is no better than the old one. The social compensation fee is still in place. Some families may now have two chances of obtaining a male heir.

But, everything else is the same. When a woman fails to conceive a boy on the second attempt, she may well decide to have an abortion so she can "reuse" her second chance.

In this way, the new policy is still encouraging immoral behaviour by parents towards their daughters.

The drawbacks make one wonder: is the one-child policy, introduced in 1979, the only solution to China's population problem?

Statistics from the 1960s and 1970s reveal that the one-child policy is not the only way to keep the population under control.

According to the data, the rate of natural increase - calculated by subtracting the number of deaths from the number of births - was already decreasing prior to the implementation of the one-child policy, from 33.5 per 1,000 in 1963 to 12.05 per 1,000 in 1978.

This fall can be attributed to the success of the "later, longer, fewer" government initiative - which originated in the 1950s - that promoted later marriage, longer gaps between births, and fewer children.

Rather than setting any concrete quotas, the campaign instead promoted the concept of an ideal family with no more than five people.

More importantly, the policy came with fewer moral drawbacks: it neither imposed a social compensation fee nor coerced parents into aborting their unborn daughters.

But, back in 1979, the government was not satisfied with this steady fall in the rate of natural increase; it wanted a fast solution to overpopulation.

However, today is not 1979 and China needs to halt this policy before it does any more harm to Chinese society.

Above all, something must be done to reverse the trend of parents' violation of their moral duty to their daughters, the result of the restrictions on the number of births.

Relaxation of the policy is no solution. Rather, the government needs to find a better alternative - one that does not require the people to sacrifice their daughters or their moral values.

Mengdi Lin is a Columbia University student whose interests include human rights and the Chinese political system